Best Shot in the West by Patricia McKissack, Frederick L McKissack Jr and Randy DuBurke

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Best Shot in the West by Patricia McKissack, Frederick L McKissack Jr and Randy DuBurke

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Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A slightly worthy but interesting look at the real Wild West, with a distinctive graphic style.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 136 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 9780811857499

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We're going to do the real West, Nat. You're as real as the rest of 'em - Bat Masterson, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill, the Earps. So says a publisher to a lowly railroad porter, Nat. But if this guy's as real as the rest of those famous names, why does his not trip off the tongue? Is it purely because as the most famous African-American cowboy, he still was not allowed to be as famous as he should?

Well the fact he had several names in his life - Nat Love, Deadwood Dick and more - might not help. But certainly few people in Britain at least would have heard of him, and fewer still will recognise his place in history coincided pretty much with Queen Victoria's reign. While here we had everything the history books have left for us, out in the prairielands of America there was less to record what happened - until at least Nat Love published an autobiography late in life, and books like this vividly put his circumstances onto the printed page in a brand new fashion.

I point out that he is little known partly in response to this book being a bit like a school text book, but at its best it is lighter in showing the world of Nat Love and his colleagues and friends. Shooting competitions, hard drinking when the job's done (and when you consider the job could have taken several months to complete...), and utter boredom perhaps, leavened by startling stampedes and nightmarish storms and gunfights - all are here.

The artistic style is the main talking point for me. I don't want to call the palate subdued, but it can often take unusual colour choices and paint things in unrealistic shades to convey the warmth or darkness of the location. Sometimes the characters are made much more black and white than their surround, so they almost look cut-out and stuck on in a collage. This foregrounding is proof that this book wants to take Nat Love from the dusty pages of history and into real life where he belongs.

The story the authors provide, one where our aged train worker sits down to write the aforementioned memoirs, before sweeping us through salient points of drama in his life, can be a touch clunky, and certainly the book reads better on the second pass, where you know exactly who's who and what's what and why. Oddly enough it shows just enough of the Hollywood cowboy story, and enough of what the reality must have been - which only makes Nat successfully carry into the near-legendary character he would only be if more well-known. While this volume isn't perfect, it should go at least some way to making that occur.

I must thank the publishers for our review copy.

Nat Love apparently admonished himself for not being at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The real story of what happened there and elsewhere with the indigenous battles against the pioneers is in Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.

Buy Best Shot in the West by Patricia McKissack, Frederick L McKissack Jr and Randy DuBurke at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Best Shot in the West by Patricia McKissack, Frederick L McKissack Jr and Randy DuBurke at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Best Shot in the West by Patricia McKissack, Frederick L McKissack Jr and Randy DuBurke at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Best Shot in the West by Patricia McKissack, Frederick L McKissack Jr and Randy DuBurke at Amazon.com.

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